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Old 08-15-2017, 10:46 AM   #1
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How Did You Get Your Start in the Kitchen?

After my trip into the baking world at age seven with a failed whoopee pie attempt, I kind of just gravitated to the baking world. I'm sure it was mostly because of my preference for something sweet at that age. I didn't get into cooking right away. But as my parents both worked, we children were called upon to start a meal for supper. There were a few fails. I remember making a chocolate cake for my father – his favorite. And as mother worked till 8 at the bank that night, I thought a pot of coffee would be a nice gesture. I put the cake on the back burner to cool and started the old stove top percolator on the front burner. Unfortunately, I turned on the back burner and burnt the heck out of the cake when I walked away from the kitchen. I wasn't familiar at that time with a rack for cooling baked goods. Live and learn.

By the time I was 15, I was old enough to work with 'work papers'. The local nursing home was hiring but I was too young to work with patients. Because I could boil water without burning it, they made me the evening cook and weekend fill in. It was intimidating to serve 60 patients a meal that would be palatable, but I worked with a menu. The day cook would prepare some things, or at least get them started. I always was unhappy to see egg salad on the menu. My day cook would boil them up but never chilled them. She would leave them to me to peel. I don't think that much of those eggs made it into the bowl. Large chunks of the white were discarded – stuck on the shell.

One weekend serving as the day cook, hot rolls were on the menu. I'd never seen them on the menu before, and having experienced bread making, I knew I was in trouble. I don't know if I ran home for the recipe, but I found myself making my oatmeal bread into rolls for 60 patients. I figured that if I doubled the batch I could eke out that number. In those days, we had a big Hobart mixer. I knew nothing about a bread hook and used the paddle that was in the machine. Did they have dough hooks back in the '60's? Well, it didn't work. I ended up with a strange mixture much like cake dough. There were no forming rolls out of that. Today, I might have been able to save it, but I slunk with that pan full of dough into the dish-washing room and forced it down the disposal. Then I wandered into the pantry. There was not enough bread to serve with dinner and I was in a pinch. It was then that I spied a 5-pound bag of hot roll mix on the shelf. oh.....

I continued to work there. Once I reached age 16 I graduated to a nurses aide position. I worked as an aide but sometimes as a cook, and stayed on all through high school and more as I went to nursing school. Summers and holidays from training, I was called upon to work in the kitchen. It was a nice change. I was able to provide aides and cooks with their summer vacations.

I learned the value of the clean-up. Called on the carpet only once was more than I wanted to take. It turned out to be from someone's midnight snack not from our evening meal. But I never received an apology from the boss for that calling down. It was another lesson learned. It was about how to treat those that work for you. Yes, live and learn.

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Old 08-15-2017, 12:23 PM   #2
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Single working mom. Been cooking complete meals since I was about 7 years old. Before that watching and helping with prep work, setting table and washing dishes.
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Old 08-15-2017, 12:43 PM   #3
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My mum is a horrible cook, not even goats will eat her bread. So it was either eat inedible food while dad worked away from the home or start cooking. My grandfather and my father are the two cooks that inspired me.

So I been cooking since I was 7 and always loved this.
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Old 08-15-2017, 12:59 PM   #4
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I was hungry once, there was kitchen and uncooked ingredients. To survive I had to cook.
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Old 08-15-2017, 01:32 PM   #5
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Necessity. I ate everything I made no matter how bad, which was the inspiration to improve really fast.
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Old 08-15-2017, 03:46 PM   #6
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My mom is an okay cook and she doesn't really enjoy it. And she doesn't have a lot of patience for teaching, so I didn't learn a whole lot from her. My dad cooked some, primarily grilling steak and making his mother's kielbasa and sauerkraut with beer.

After I married, I went to a class on cooking with herbs at a local horticultural center. It was a revelation. I had received a (typical for the time) pre-filled herb and spice rack as a wedding gift and had never really eaten fresh herbs before. That really changed my cooking. I came home with a bunch of recipes. DH attached some window boxes to the outside of our fire escape balcony and that was my first herb garden.

Then I acquired some good cookware and knives, took more classes, subscribed to Cooks Illustrated and learned a lot on my own. Also, I had my first major surgery in 2002 and recovered for six weeks at home, so I discovered the Food Network. It was much more about cooking then, so I learned a lot from the that, too. I'm fascinated by the chemistry of cooking and recently have started baking more.

Luckily, my DH not a very picky eater, so I make all kinds of things. It's so much fun
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Old 08-15-2017, 06:15 PM   #7
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My mom was an awesome cook, and my friends' mothers were as well. When I got my first apartment after graduating Princeton, I quickly realized that I needed to learn how to cook in the manner of which I was raised. The rest has been 30+ years of trying to replicate my the food of my youth, as well as the dishes I've eaten in restaurants that have piqued my interest.

Actually, this reminded me of a the very first thread that I ever started here:
http://www.discusscooking.com/forums...odie-2641.html

Oh, yeah, that was Princeton Driving School, btw... I couldn't hack college. Failed out in less than 2 years.
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Old 08-15-2017, 06:19 PM   #8
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My mom was a great cook and my dad was a chef. He often put me to work in the evenings after dinner typing up recipes he dictated to me off the top of his head.

After marriage and a couple of kids, I got the bug to cook, remembering my dad's efforts from a couple of decades before. I never got much chance to cook at home as my DW was possesive of the kitchen and I wasn't allowed (cooking was her "job"). I was limited to weekend pancakes for the kids.

Fast forward to divorce and living on my own again. I had to cook so I did. Watched a lot of TV cooking shows. Many thanks to Julia, Martin Yan, Justin Wilson, Jacques Pepin, Alton Brown, Emeril, et al. I have been refining my skills since then.

Now I cook all the meals for SO, GD and myself as well as for gatherings of friends and family.
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Old 08-15-2017, 08:16 PM   #9
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My mom was also a bad cook. Bland, and overcooked was her specialty.

I started cooking in college, because eating out wasn't in my budget working in a camera store after classes.

Later in life, I started to enjoy cooking as a creative endeavor. And, as I have said before, the day I learned mise en place was a cooking epiphany. I really started to try some pretty fancy dishes, and my success rate went way up. More success made it more fun, which led to more cooking.

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Old 08-15-2017, 09:14 PM   #10
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My mother contracted polio as a child. She wore a brace on her leg. A lot of days it was difficult for her to get up, walk, sit down over and over. So she would sit at the table prepping the food and tell me to add this, stir the pot, put a cover on it, etc. And it was all on a wood burning stove to start. When we had the farm, I learned all about canning at her side in the summer kitchen. I did all the 'cooking' under her direction, and she did all the prepping.

But she wasn't into baking that much. I used to ask her how to bake a cake, and other goodies. I would gather all the ingredients and follow her directions at her side while she watched what I was doing. Then the goodies went into that oven at just the right temperature. She taught me how to tell the temp just by putting my hand in the oven.

Then I got married to an Englishman who had trained at some of the most prestigious cooking academies in Europe. The only problem was he was used to cooking for a large amount of people at one time. So one day I asked him for directions on how to make an apple pie. Seasoning mostly. "Look in my little black book. There is a perfect recipe for apple pie in it."

2 bushels of apples, one cup of cinnamon, etc. You get the idea. He was of no help. But on the rare occasions he decided to cook for the family, I would stand at his side and watch. Even took some notes. But he worked so fast like you would when you are in a commercial kitchen, it was difficult to keep up with him.

Along came the kids and the family grew. I cooked the foods I had learned at my mothers side. For baking, my husband had the first edition of the Joy Of Cooking by Irma Rombauer. My son Spike now has it. I learned most of my baking skills from that book. I read it from cover to cover more than once. I am sure that book is worth some pretty pennies by now. But Spike will never part with it.

My mother taught me dishes she grew up with. Good hearty, rib sticking, New England foods. But after the farm was sold and we moved to the city, it was a community of Italian immigrants. All my girlfriends were Italian and whenever I would go to their homes, the grandmother (Nonni) would be cooking and would tell me all about what they were making and how. So I learned to add Italian cooking to my skills. Including desserts. Although I don't care for many of their desserts, my kids loved them. So I would rarely make them for special occasions.
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Old 08-16-2017, 10:39 AM   #11
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I always helped out in the kitchen from as long as I can remember. When I was 7, my father passed away and my mom went to work. She would leave a main meal in the fridge to heat up, but my sister and I would fix a side to go with it. During the summers, my grandmother would come and stay with us until the year I turned 13 and I could stay by myself. My sister was 5 years older than me, and she worked during the summers and had band activities also. After age 13, my sister was living at the beach and I was by myself after school and summer for that year and the next year, so I cooked all sorts of stuff for me and my Mom because she was working nights. Of course, I cooked after I got my own place and had a family of my own, and now I take care of my Mom and do all the stuff around the house too.
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Old 08-16-2017, 12:10 PM   #12
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I just grew up like any boy in the 50's, playing ball and riding bikes and such, except that my father left us when I was 10. During the 4 years before Mom remarried, I occasionally helped with simple things to get dinner started before she got home from work - stuff like putting on potatoes to bake or boil, setting the table, etc.

Since I always liked to eat, it seemed natural to first learn how to prepare some of my favorite meals, and she liked the company in the kitchen. In order to get to lick out the beaters and the bowl when she baked, it was expected that I would help in some way, so I learned early how to make a cake from a mix. I think that I was the only boy I knew right through high school who could bake a cake, and make frosting from scratch. Pre 1964 it just wasn't considered a normal pursuit for a boy.

Between high school graduation and getting married at age 46, I had 28 years to mostly cook for myself. Learning to do it acceptably was simple self defense. I'm not a great cook. I rarely make fancy dishes, simply because I'm inherently lazy. But I do know the basics.

20 years ago I took a 4 week evening course in the essentials of classic French cooking, and I even retained some of it. I can put things together, season them fairly well, and cook them properly. For me, that's the essence of cooking. Following a recipe is fine, but it's a rare dish I have't done something to modify the plan, even if that is just increasing the seasoning for bolder flavors.
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Old 08-16-2017, 12:30 PM   #13
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I was a licensed funeral director in Toronto, Ontario when I met my first wife. She is Italian. We eventually got married and decided to accept an offer from her parents to move to Italy and help them run their hotel. When I got there, I couldn't speak Italian so they threw me in the kitchen to work with the crew. I spent a couple of years there until I moved out into the bar and became a barrista for another year before we made the move back to Canada..I came back and immediately got a job in a kitchen. Been in and out of the business for over 30 years... owned two places for a total of around 17 of those years. Looks like I'll be doing it until I can't.

I also cooked KFC for a couple of years in high school...
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Old 08-16-2017, 02:15 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CraigC View Post
Necessity. I ate everything I made no matter how bad, which was the inspiration to improve really fast.
Same
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Old 08-16-2017, 07:00 PM   #15
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I really did not do anything in the kitchen until I married my late wife 40 years ago. We both worked for the same company and rode to and from together. It became painfully obvious if I just sat on my butt, we would not eat until 9 PM!
So I became the souschef (hence my screen name), to help with preparation with dinner.
After my wife was brain injured, she could not handle the cooking. She had been organized and had menus worked out for a week at a time. I just worked from a stack of those menus and her cookbooks and recipe file until she passed away 12 years later.
I am now blessed with a wife who is a fantastic cook, and I still help with the preparation, and occasionally do the cooking.
But she is the BBQ queen (with apologies to ABBA)
You can dance
You can jive
Having the time of your life
See that girl
Watch that scene
She is the BBQ Queen
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Old 08-16-2017, 07:36 PM   #16
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Like others I learned to really cook as a matter of self preservation. Mom was a basic cook and the menus never varied. I started reading cookbooks (Thanks Better Homes and Gardens) to pick up on variations of our standard menus. The TLC Channel had Justin Wilson and Martin Yan...they inspired me to try more exciting food. For many years Shrek and I had Thanksgiving and Christmas meals as my playground to try other cuisines, I would create a whole menu for the meal from a cookbook from the library.

I soon started working in restaurant kitchens (definitely NOT waitress material), starting out prepping and creating Salad Bars. Then went to Soups. Briefly worked the grill, too high pressure for me. Began working in a grocery scratch bakery, finished off in a Mom and Pop Bakery as the Soup and Salad Queen as well as accomplished donut dipper. I still love to experiment, my time in the restaurants and bakeries gave me the confidence and desire to use professional equipment. At one point, Shrek and I were considering opening our own bakery, but I got lead down the Nursing path.

I miss working in the kitchens, not enough to go back to it though.
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Old 08-16-2017, 08:18 PM   #17
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I learned to cook when I went on food stamps. I kept running out of food every month buying frozen food, so I bit the bullet and decided to learn to cook.

The first month, half my food stamp money went to buying spices, since all I had in the house was salt. That was a rough month. But next month, with a couple of recipes I thought I might like, I was actually making some food I could eat.

Since then I've stumbled on Chef John's videos which were a God-send for me. I need to see cooking done before I understand it. Please don't laugh - cooking isn't as simple for some people as for others.

Anyway, now I have about 38 spices on my shelves and a ton of recipes I'd like to make. I experiment with new recipes at least a couple of times a month in summer, much more in winter.
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Old 08-16-2017, 09:08 PM   #18
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Originally Posted by rodentraiser View Post
Since then I've stumbled on Chef John's videos which were a God-send for me. I need to see cooking done before I understand it. Please don't laugh - cooking isn't as simple for some people as for others.
I think most of us understand that people learn in different ways. Some learn visually and some verbally. It's all good
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Old 08-16-2017, 10:52 PM   #19
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I think most of us understand that people learn in different ways. Some learn visually and some verbally. It's all good
Thanks! I think my problem is that I have a hard time learning no matter what method I use.
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Old 08-17-2017, 12:34 AM   #20
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Originally Posted by Souschef View Post
I really did not do anything in the kitchen until I married my late wife 40 years ago. We both worked for the same company and rode to and from together. It became painfully obvious if I just sat on my butt, we would not eat until 9 PM!
So I became the souschef (hence my screen name), to help with preparation with dinner.
After my wife was brain injured, she could not handle the cooking. She had been organized and had menus worked out for a week at a time. I just worked from a stack of those menus and her cookbooks and recipe file until she passed away 12 years later.
I am now blessed with a wife who is a fantastic cook, and I still help with the preparation, and occasionally do the cooking.
But she is the BBQ queen (with apologies to ABBA)
You can dance
You can jive
Having the time of your life
See that girl
Watch that scene
She is the BBQ Queen
And there she is!
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